No. 19

Risks, Edges, and Failing Big

Listen, we need to talk about Brené Brown for a moment.

First: She’s awesome. She’s got this motherly goddess energy about her that makes you want to confess your soul. At the same time, she has fire that wants to get out and say “suck it” when someone’s mean.

Second: Her ideas resonate. She spoke at the World Domination Summit about vulnerability as the birthplace of creativity. To be truly creative (and to create), you must be willing to fail. And fail big. That can be a wildly scary thing, especially when we’re taught society only awards successes. But you can’t succeed big unless you walk up to the edge and are prepared to fail big as well.

Edges have been on my mind a lot lately, especially as I write. As artists, as creatives, as people, we need to push ourselves; we need to walk to that edge and swan dive over. And sometimes we may fail. But we get ourselves back up, dust off, and do it again, because we know what we’re capable of. We do it with the art we create, with the romantic relationships that we delve into, with businesses that we want to start.

The metaphor is easy. It’s the practice of getting to the edge and failing that’s difficult. In some cases, I don’t know what that looks like. What am I willing to fail big at because the risk is worth it? What would my edge in my writing be? Is it the language I use? The content I write about? I’m still trying to find out what feels edgy for me, what makes me feel vulnerable. There are ideas stirring in my head and so much I want to work on.

What was the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? A business? A romance? A trip? I’d love to know — and hear how it turned out.

{image from Chris Guillebeau’s flickr, used under Creative Commons License; also check out Brené’s TED talks: The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame}

About brandi

Brandi is a digital strategist, website developer, and founder of Alchemy+Aim, a company that helps entrepreneurs and business owners elevate their online presence and enhance their digital experience. Her academic background in theatre, philosophy and physics was the perfect foundation for launching her business, where she’s worked with Brené Brown, Laverne Cox, Judy Smith, and other notable thought leaders since 2013. She is an advocate for using technology in ways that humanize, connect and serve people as well as for asking deeper philosophical questions and teaching others to think more broadly about impact when they create, particularly in STEAM fields.

29 thoughts on “Risks, Edges, and Failing Big

  1. My biggest risk is what I’m doing right now with the nonprofit. We’re in the fundraising stage right now and it’s more difficult and time consuming than I would have imagined but not surprising. It’s pushing me out of my comfort zone, something that I have to get used to

  2. My biggest risk was getting into a relationship with someone who lived on the other side of the world. We did two years of long-distance and it was really difficult at times, but thrilling, too, every time we got to see each other again {and yay! I got to spend a lot of time in London!}

    It was a risk that paid off, as you know. We’ve been married ten years now.


    PS: Speaking of which, thanks for re-scheduling our skype date to Friday so I can make it to our anniversary dinner downtown on time on Thursday!

  3. I just accepted a new job that very well could be my dream job. Part of me is terrified, and part of me is so happy I think I could burst. It’s a risk to leave my comfortable-but-boring job that I had before, but I’m hoping with everything I have that it will be the greatest leap I’ve made yet.

    Thanks for sharing this post!

  4. The biggest risk that comes to mind is the one that’s looming up ahead of me very, alarmingly soon. By this Sunday, I plan on leaving the country where I was born and raised to go live and work in the country my parents were born and raised in.

    Teaching English in Korea has been a fervent goal of mine, but it’s horrifying how it still hasn’t sunk in that I’m going to be living and teaching on my own in a country whose language and culture I’m not wholly used to. I’m already afraid it’ll explode in my face or I’ll fall on my face (either way, it would not end well for my face).

    1. What? Charlene, this is AWESOME. You’ll be brilliant and you’ll have so much fun exploring this new place. I hope you’ll be blogging about it too some, yes?

  5. I love this. I’ve been thinking a lot about failing lately too. I saw James Cameron on Ted Talks speaking on that very subject and coming from someone as creative as he is, it really resonated with me. He said in NASA their motto is failure is not an option. But he likes to say failure is always an option (or something to that affect).
    I would definitely say that writing a novel of any kind is a risk and probably the biggest one I’ll take in life. Failing at it would be that my novels never get published or they don’t sell and that scares the crap out of me. But in some ways I have already failed at writing a novel. I’ve written plenty of horrible drafts but every time I start over I feel closer to telling the story my characters are trying to tell.
    How is your story coming along?

    1. Darling, you wrote a novel! That’s totally a success. Getting it published is icing. And remember — you can always self-publish. I heard of a woman who did that, selling her book for $1 on Amazon and ended up making a million dollars from all the sales.

      As for my story, it’s growing. I’ve been in the planning stages for some time and been writing some scenes here and there, but I’m going to get down to it when I get back from Scotland.

  6. Oh I’m not very risky. Perhaps starting a relationship with J was a little risky… I was one to always go back to the “safe” guy and J wasn’t one of my regular safe guys. Granted, I think I can say that he is still pretty “safe” (and I don’t mind that one bit!).

    I should take risks more often. I have a ridiculous fear of failure though. Often I’d rather stay comfortably where I am than risk shaking my world with the possibility of failure. =/ Any tips for that?


    PS – I did once jump off a 40 foot cliff into a river when I was in Honduras. That was kind of risky! ;)

    1. I think you just need to remind yourself that you have to risk big to win big. So what if you fail? You’ll learn and be stronger because of it.

  7. Failure isn’t evil. Failures aren’t failures at all. They’re practice. They’re lessons. They’re additional data gathered, knowledge collected. They’re enriching, understanding. They’re full of good, and we need to stop fearing them. So basically…
    YES. Pushing boundaries is the only way to fail. We need to stop thinking of failing as a bad thing, even rename it, or something, because we need to want to fail. because that would mean we want to learn, to grow, to become better, and to become more.

    I suppose the riskiest thing I have ever done is moving to America. I mean, the move alone, 3000 miles away, to a new city, with no specific job prospects or even a home, yet… that’s risk enough. But I decided to make it even a little extra risky by spending 30 days riding the rails of this country all over, before I got here.

    What I learned? Risk pays off. Big dividends. But you have to accept that the payoff isn’t always immediate. What may feel like a failure initially will inevitably just become a stepping stone to success. And you would never have reached the success in the end without having jumped along all the stepping stones of supposed “failure” that allowed you to learn and grow.

    Yeah, I feel like I am writing my own blog post here. Geez!

    1. I love it all! One of my favorite things about blogging is when I read a friend’s post and it gets me writing — and when friends do the same because of my posts.

      Everything you said about taking risks is so very right. I’m so very glad you moved to America — and love that you set out to see some of it before getting settled. I’m always amazed by how few Americans have actually seen their country.

  8. The biggest risk?

    Leaving my last graduate program and enrolling in a different one. I have no idea if I am finally falling into the right program, but my gut instinct says yes, and I’m going with it.

    The next risk?

    Putting pen to paper (or letters in a document) and becoming a writer rather than a good writer who doesn’t manage to write.

    1. Katie, I can so relate to both of these! Leaving my graduate program was super hard for me too. I still feel like a failure some days, but I know it was the right decision for me.

      And I write a lot, but sometimes I’m scared to work on my big writing projects because I’m afraid of sucking at them. Let’s both support each other, yes?

  9. Letting people read my novel. Moving to another state for a love. Getting married. Every blog post I write. Inviting people to a performance. I’m realizing how many I have.

  10. I am terrified of failure, Brandi. It holds me back. I grew up in a family whose favorite pass time is sailing. (At one time I moved to Marblehead, MA, just for the sailing.) But I stopped sailing long ago. Why? Because I’ve never capsized. I’ve never sailed right up to the edge that way, and the wind never knocked me over. And now I’m afraid.

    I hope I overcome my fear of failure, in one great leap of faith. I wish you luck is overcoming yours.

    1. Thanks, Mark! I hope you overcome yours too. I really find it hard to believe you’re afraid of failure after all you’ve done.

  11. This resonates with me so much right because I think I’m nearing one of these “edges”. In fact, I’m pretty much standing at the cliff side right now, running back and forth between safety and precariously peering over the edge. Figuring out whether now is the right time to jump or not… that’s the question!

    1. Jump! I hope I can say that I know you well enough to know you will fly. You have incredible talent. I can’t wait to see where it leads you.

  12. this year has been full of risk. one thing i am learning is how i live with such doubt/fear and how that hinders me. risk have been good in letting me know that i can do it. make it and be okay. biggest risk-falling love, moving to a new city and job and getting married. all good but definitely risky.

  13. Thanks for sharing this post, Brandi!

    My parents left Vietnam during the War, and came here by boat. Four times, they failed to leave. Once, they ended up on a remote island, until my uncles, who were studying in the States, were able to find them and have a church sponsor my parents. They opened up their own medical practice and have been small business owners for most of their adult lives. I cannot begin to imagine what my life would have been if they hadn’t taken the risk.

    For myself, the biggest risk I ever made was to walk out of the house at age 18 and go away for college. All my younger years, I had my life planned out for me and from what I could see, I would be a carbon copy of my older sister, who in many ways, resembled a stereotypical model minority (though, I am so proud of her accomplishments.) I learned to live on my own, travel on my own, and define a career and a relationship that was carved by my parents values, and eventually my own. And again, I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if not for that risk as a teenager!

    But your point is absolutely correct: successes (and sometimes failure) depends on being willing to fail, and fail in a big way, and using that acceptance and fear of it to propel us forward. Thanks for this wonderful reminder :)

    1. Amy, thank you so much for sharing these stories! Your parents really did take an incredible risk leaving Vietnam and coming here. It’s so inspiring they have accomplished so much — as have you in your journey!

  14. Such thought provoking questions, Brandi. I also have a hard time with falling both literally and figuratively. I’m terrified of looking stupid in the process, of trying and failing to the point where sometimes I’m simply paralyzed. I’ve pushed past this fear in overcoming a nature trail with steep drop offs despite a panic attack with tears involved, I’ve let myself be vulnerable and fall in love again despite a hard breakup that made me scared of opening my heart again, I risked a lot when I earned my architecture degree and immediately decided to pursue a master’s in journalism instead, and I feel like I’ve taken risks time and time again in the topics I discuss on my blog.

    There have been many times when I worry that clicking publish will turn readers away and label me as crazy or emotional or whatnot, but I do it anyway. Why? Because I don’t live in a void and I can’t be alone in this. If there’s just one person who feels the slightest bit empowered or just comforted because I’ve opened that door a little, because I’ve put myself out there so they can see they’re not the only one then it’s all worth it.

    I wish I were that brave in other ways especially when it comes to pursuing other creative dreams, but it’s hard. Art and creating is so personal to me that I still fear that a criticism or failure in that end would be taken way too much to heart.

  15. The concept of failure has been heavy on my mind lately. Here have been a couple of my thoughts on the subject:

    1. It’s important to define success, in very specific terms – to be able to visualize it so clearly that you know what it tastes, smells, looks and feels like – that way when you experience those sensations you are able to recognize that you’ve succeeded.

    2. But on the flip side, what does failure look like? I don’t spend any amount of time visualizing failure. Therefore, I can never fail because I don’t know how to recognize what failure looks, smells, tastes and feels like. I mean sure – sometimes I feel down in the dumps and insecure and “why does everything feel so hard?” but “failure” – it’s an adjective I just don’t prescribe to.

    Also, Brandi, I have to say it’s really awesome seeing you rev your engine. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

  16. Brene Brown is one of my favorite (TED) speakers. She is so engaging and, well, awesome. Gosh, when I take the time to think about it, I’ve taken many risks – moving across country for new love, starting a stationery business, moving to Boston by myself and knowing only one person. You make such a great point, we must push ourselves to the edge to realize our fullest potential. It’s equal parts scary and uncomfortable, but it’s really the only way to break through. Excited to see where your edge takes you.

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